Students Rob Gibson and Eric Stanley met seven years ago at St. Peter Baptist Church in Henrico County where Stanley’s mother was the reverend.
“I was playing piano in one of the rooms in the church, and (Gibson) just came out of nowhere and started drawing. … I was like ‘Whoa, I didn’t know you could do that,’” Stanley said.
Three years ago, Stanley came to VCU to pursue a degree in classical violin performance, only to move into his dorm and see that Gibson was his RA and would be living in the room right next to Stanley’s.
Now, the pair will be performing for three minutes on an international scale at TEDxRVA on Friday.
Gibson and Stanley have been collaborating on their combination of spoken word poetry and violin music since they reconnected at VCU.
“Over the process of me being his RA and hanging out, we just started to collaborate,” Gibson said. “I’d walk in there and he’d be playing something and I would just spin a rap or a poem, just say something that was off the top of my head.”
Since Stanley was a violin performance major, he was often playing violin in his dorm, trying new pieces. Gibson encouraged Stanley to play violin with recordings of other musicians during an open-mic night held in Johnson Hall.
“That was my first time playing music that wasn’t gospel and there was pretty good feedback,” Stanley said.
Gibson and Stanley have been collaborating on their respective arts ever since. Gibson is a spoken-word poet and founder of the slam poetry group at VCU, Slam Nahuatl. Stanley plays the violin, often composing his own pieces and covering pop and indie songs for his popular YouTube account.
“I like the contrast that Eric and I have. It’s very fitting for him to have the violin because he doesn’t have to say much, but for me, I let my words speak for me and my body is just the exclamation mark for the words that are coming,” Gibson said. “Essentially, Eric wants to fade into the background. … His path is different from mine; we’re dealing with two separate beasts.”
TEDxRVA held an open-mic night on Jan. 31 to choose the speakers who will be representing Richmond on the world stage. Gibson and Stanley were not part of the open-mic process, instead participating in a contest held by VCU called Battle of the Rams. The event asked artists and musicians to submit videos of their work. A video of Gibson and Stanley performing an original poem written by Gibson accompanied by Stanley’s violin has more than 4,000 views and grabbed the attention of voters for TEDxRVA.
Unknown to Gibson and Stanley, they were nominated and voted to perform at TEDxRVA through the TEDxRVA website. A few days after the open-mic night, they received an email asking if they would be interested in being a part of TEDxRVA.
Because the original nominator of the pair is unknown, Gibson and Stanley said they see the opportunity as something magical. For their video and TEDxRVA, Gibson and Stanley will perform a piece called “Untitled Visions,” which Gibson was inspired to write after opening for the poet and performer Saul Williams in 2011. They hope that their performance is an inspiration to be creative to those who see it.
“Our lives can be a lesson or an example for other people who are in search of some type of fulfillment,” Gibson said. “I am fulfilled when I am performing a piece that I worked hard to chisel. Every poem for me is like a sculpture.”
For Stanley, playing the violin is about getting inspired and staying inspired. As a child, he quit the violin so many times that he said he has lost count. In high school, he found his inspiration to continue playing violin and pursue his passion at VCU.
“It got to a point where I was focusing a lot on the next thing, and I kind of just pulled myself back and saw the big picture,” Stanley said.
Gibson and Stanley both admit to being long time TED Talk video viewers, each drawing inspiration from the topics discussed.
“I’ve been watching it for a while and it’s all inspiration to me, seeing the different people’s perspectives and experiences,” Stanley said.
Gibson also sees the TED Talks as being similar to poetry in its ability to connect to people.
“Seeing those affluent people speaking about how they got to where they are now and their stories. The stories are what stick,” Gibson said. “In that sense it’s very similar to spoken-word poetry. … They have developed a culture of people sharing their experiences and stories and I love that.”
The combination of spoken-word poetry and violin is not one normally seen at TED Talks, but the collaboration and friendship of Gibson and Stanley is in keeping with the sense of community at TED.
“We help each other out because we know each other,” Gibson said. “We’re friends so we always question and query about each others artistic endeavors and what we have coming up next and if we can help each other.”